Learning Beyond Instruction with the Australian English curriculum: meaningful learning for all.
How can we go beyond mere facts and skills and teach our students to understand and engage with English at a deeper, conceptual level?
How can we use the Australian Curriculum: English to design rich and meaningful learning opportunities?
Learning Beyond Instruction (LBI) is a process for learning design and teaching that aims for all learning to have enduring value beyond the point of instruction. We don't teach students to 'pass school', we teach so they can enjoy successful lives beyond school, therefore what is taught in a task, a lesson or a school year must have value into the future. Learning must also occur beyond mere instruction. Instruction may have students busily completing tasks, but it doesn't automatically follow that quality learning is occurring. 'Turn to page 37 and complete the spelling activities' is an instruction that may have students busily putting pen to paper, but what is being taught? Students are merely following the instruction and completing a task. Learning Beyond Instruction is about more than this.
So what is Learning Beyond Instruction (LBI) and what does it mean for our planning and assessment when we use the Australian Curriculum: English? LBI is a process based on seven key words.
FOCUS INTENT CONNECTIONS TRANSFER OPPORTUNITIES ASSESSMENT DIFFERENTIATION
Let's look at what each means when we use the Australian English Curriculum to design learning for our students.
We can't plan or teach if we aren't absolutely clear about what it is we are teaching. This step is about identifying a focus for teaching and identifying a suitable conceptual lens through which the focus will be taught.
Figure 1. Questions to guide planning and teaching * What am I teaching? * Considering the volume and scope of the curriculum, what am I choosing to focus on now? * What conceptual lens will be used to give depth to this focus?
The Importance of the Conceptual Lens Factual knowledge and skills are important but not enough; we want students to think and think deeply. The conceptual lens gives our teaching and learning focus, depth and transfer (Erickson, 2007). We can use the lens to make meaningful connections between English strands, modes, concepts, knowledge and skills.
Figure 2. Example Focus for Year 4 This learning design focuses on investigating how images and language are used to provide detail and enhance meaning in texts. During this focus, different text types will be examined and created to explore the use and purpose of images and language features. Conceptual lens: Meaning
With this lens, students will not simply learn about one text type, but will learn about different text types and the devices used to convey meaning in each. The focus here is not a single content description but will incorporate content from all three English strands. We don't choose a content description to teach and then 'tick it off'. We use the content flexibly to create meaningful connections and learning opportunities.
Before we plan and teach we must be clear about why we are teaching something and why it's important. This step of the LBI process asks us to be clear about our intent and purpose and to be clear about the learning intentions for students.
Figure 3. Questions to guide planning and teaching * What is my intent? * Why am I choosing this focus? * What is my purpose? * Why is this important? * What are the learning intentions for my students? * What is essential for them to know, understand and do? Figure 4. Sample Intent for Year 4 using the above Focus Purpose (Why teach this?): It is important for students to understand how to gain and convey meaning through texts. Understanding the devices used to enhance meaning is important when creating texts and enables us to better present information in detailed and engaging ways to have our message understood by our audience. Learning Intentions Knowledge Students will know: * Examples of imaginative, informative and persuasive texts. * The purpose of different word classes and related groups (i.e. nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives). * The purpose of full stops, exclamation marks and quotation marks. Understanding Students will understand: * Choice of words, punctuation and images can enrich a text and enhance its meaning. * How meaning is conveyed through a text is related to its purpose and this meaning may be hidden or inferred. Skills Students will be able to: * Explain how words and images have been used to convey meaning in a range of texts. * Create multimodal texts for a given purpose. * Use a range of spelling strategies for unknown words.
We need to connect the learning to the learner. Our students need to see the relevance of what they are learning and understand its value. We also need to make curriculum connections by connecting:
--The English strands and sub-strands
--The communication modes (reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing)
--The general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities
--Other curriculum areas that relate to the English focus being taught.
Figure 5. Questions to guide planning and teaching: * How will the learning be connected to the learner? * How will students' interests and background knowledge be used to enhance learning? * How will students be engaged in this learning? * What connections can be made to prior learning or other areas of the curriculum? * What learning from other areas of the curriculum will students need in order to be successful with this focus? * How will the 3 strands of English be connected and integrated? * What content across the 3 strands connects to my focus and lens? * How will the communication modes be connected to the focus and lens? * How will the general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities be connected to the focus? Figure 6. Example Connections using the same Year 4 Focus Personal Connections: Texts of students' own choice and interest will be used and examined and students will have the opportunity to create texts of personal interest and for chosen audiences. Curriculum Connections: This focus will address content from all strands of the English curriculum. Meaningful connections can be made to the History and Science curricula through related texts. The general capabilities of literacy, critical and creative thinking, ICT competence, intercultural understanding and personal and social competence and all three cross-curriculum priorities can also be purposefully connected and taught.
These connections go beyond simply integrating curriculum. This is about meaningful connections. We need to ask, 'What other learning will students need in order to be successful with this focus?' or 'Where can students use and transfer their learning from this focus, to other contexts?'
What we teach must have enduring value. What students learn must be used again, in different contexts and over time. Essential questions can be used to guide teaching and learning and to aid transfer. These questions are concept-based and intended to be thought provoking.
Figure 8. Questions to guide planning and teaching * How will I ensure the learning has enduring value? * How will the conceptual lens be used to give depth and transference to the learning? * What essential questions will be used to promote deeper thinking? * How will the learning have value into the future? * How will the learning be transferred? How will this learning be used and applied again at a different time and in different contexts?
We can use the conceptual lens to enable transfer to other curriculum areas.
If I'm teaching the purpose of texts, how can I transfer this to focus on the purpose of learning about operations or geometry in Maths? If I'm focusing on audience in English, this can be transferred to Maths or Science by focusing on how audience affects how data is presented.
Figure 9. Examples of Essential Questions for the same Year 4 Focus Overarching Essential Question What makes a story great? Topical Essential Question How can we find hidden meaning? Provocative Essential Question Can words or pictures have power?
These questions should be displayed and discussed regularly with students as they learn and inquire.
We need to be assessing knowledge and skills but equally important is assessing understanding. Authentic assessment tasks require students to apply what they have learned in school to a situation that mirrors the real world. In essence, it requires students to BE the end-result of their learning. We don't want students to merely 'do English', we want them to have the understanding, behaviours and dispositions to BE a writer, an orator, a critic and so on.
Figure 10. Questions to guide planning and teaching * How will I monitor and assess students' learning over time? * How will I ensure assessment is authentic? * What evidence will show students' understanding and level of understanding? * How will I know the learning intentions have been achieved? * What are my success criteria for the learning intentions? * How will I differentiate the product of the assessment to enable all students to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills? Figure 11. Example assessment task for Year 4 Focus We are creating a class magazine to appeal to an audience of 8-10-year-olds. The magazine will include: --Featured articles of topical news --Human interest stories --Popular culture stories --How to ... -Photojournalism features Create a text for one of the sections in the magazine. As a journalist you will need to think about the words and images you use to best present your information to the audience. All magazines have editors. Each journalist will also become a sub-editor and check the work of others to ensure it is ready for publication. Sub-editors check for mistakes but also analyse and examine work and make suggestions for how it may be improved. Sub-editors will be considering how words and/or images have been used to convey meaning to the audience.
Assessment tasks should be differentiated to enable all students to show their learning and the quality of their learning. In the above assessment task, the product students produce may be written, photographed, produced with digital technologies, drawn and so on. How students demonstrate their learning through this task may be quite open, allowing for a range of responses based on how students can best show their learning. When we use words like 'create' instead of 'write' we immediately enable a range of responses, rather than limiting or disadvantaging students by requiring a single way of demonstrating learning.
We need to provide multiple opportunities for students to learn the intended knowledge, understanding and skills and these opportunities should relate to the learning intentions, achievement standard, content descriptions, general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities. This is where we use the content flexibly to provide opportunities for students to achieve the learning intentions and work towards achieving the standard.
Figure 12. Questions to guide planning and teaching Questions to guide planning and teaching: * What opportunities will be provided to enable students to achieve the learning intentions? * How will these learning opportunities be organised and sequenced? * How will the teaching and learning opportunities be inclusive and differentiated by content, process, product, readiness, interest and learning profile?
When we differentiate the teaching and learning opportunities we may differentiate the content being taught or the process by which students learn the content based on their readiness, their interests and their preferred way of learning (Tomlinson, 2001).
We need to view the Australian Curriculum as a continuum and use the content flexibly while asking ourselves:
-What tasks will best suit the students and help them fully understand the concept or skill?
-How will different students make meaning from what I am teaching and what I want them to learn?
-Who can work with the year level content to understand the concepts?
-Where might I need to use content from other years to 'fill the gaps' or 'broaden students' thinking'?
Learning Beyond Instruction in a Nutshell When we use LBI to design teaching and learning from the Australian English Curriculum we need to:
1. Give the teaching and learning a relevant and meaningful FOCUS.
2. Be clear about the INTENT--why we are teaching this focus and what is essential for students to learn.
3. Make CONNECTIONS for the learner and across the curriculum.
4. Teach for TRANSFER. Give the learning value into the future.
5. ASSESS rigorously and authentically and act on that assessment to improve students' learning. DIFFERENTIATE assessments to enable all students to demonstrate their learning and the quality of their learning.
6. Provide engaging, meaningful and purposeful OPPORTUNITIES for learning.
7. Teach inclusively by DIFFERENTIATING in different ways and at different times.
If our students are to be 21st century learners and citizens, they must learn meaningfully and for the real world. We can instruct with text books or we can teach rich concepts and make meaningful and transferable connections so our students don't just learn for school, they learn for life. It's up to us. We make it happen ... or not. What will we choose to do?
Erickson, H.L. (2007). Concept Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
Tomlinson, C, (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.
Heidi Bush is a Curriculum Project Officer and consultant and who has worked extensively with teachers to prepare for implementation of the Australian Curriculum, including working alongside teachers to develop and implement classroom programs for English and literacy. The process I Heidi has written about is being used in a number of schools. Heidi presented a workshop on this process at the ALEA conference in Melbourne 2011.
Figure 7. Connecting English strands and content that relate to the Focus (a sample of related content descriptions) Language Literature Understand how texts are made Create literary texts that explore cohesive through the use of students' own experiences and linking devices including pronoun imagining reference and text connectives Recognise how quotation marks are Create literary texts by used in texts to signal dialogue, developing storylines, characters titles and reported speech and settings Identify features of online texts Discuss how authors and that enhance readability including illustrators make stories text, navigation, links, graphics exciting, moving and absorbing and and layout hold readers' interest by using various techniques, for example character development and plot tension Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun and verb groups and prepositional phrases Language Literacy Understand how texts are made Identify characteristic features cohesive through the use of used in imaginative, informative linking devices including pronoun and persuasive texts to meet the reference and text connectives purpose of the text Recognise how quotation marks are Use comprehension strategies to used in texts to signal dialogue, build literal and inferred meaning titles and reported speech to expand content knowledge, integrating and linking ideas and analysing and evaluating texts Identify features of online texts Plan, draft and publish that enhance readability including imaginative, informative and text, navigation, links, graphics persuasive texts containing key and layout information and supporting details for a widening range of audiences, demonstrating increasing control over text structures and language features Understand that the meaning of Use a range of software including sentences can be enriched through word processing programs to the use of noun and verb groups construct, edit and publish and prepositional phrases written text, and select, edit and place visual, print and audio elements